At a Glance
My gaze watches unwavering at the scene before me. Light flickers on the plumes of smoke as flames engulf a flipped vehicle. There is no movement and only complete silence.
Tears brim and cascade in steady streams down my cheeks as I look on at the horrifying scene. I try to discretely wipe them away with a sweep of my hand, but they are persistent and continue to flow despite my furtive efforts.
There has to be a logical reason for this to happen. I don't want to accept that things happen spontaneously and without purpose. I can't quite comprehend what just occurred before me and the question of "why" keeps looping in my head.
“All things in life happen for a reason.”
I turned towards the ambient voice that is suddenly behind and somehow all around me at once.
“Who...who's there?” I turn to look both right, then left and was sure that voice had come from behind. Now that I'm facing where my back was turned, I see no one. I turn my face towards the wreckage once again and suddenly I am up close to a body that is shroud in shadows. A sharp gasp escapes from me because it has no distinct shape or feature other than it could be some sort of manifestation of a shadow.
I take a step back, not feeling comfortable being in such close proximity to the being but keep calm enough not to run away in hysterics.
“Who are you?”
“Why did this happen?! I don't belong...here!” My volume increases as I speak, not because I need this thing to hear me but mainly the gravity of what happened hit me once I said everything aloud.
“You are here because I deem it so.”
I look at the nameless being in confusion, trying to register that last statement. With my chin held up high, lips pursed in a tight line, and my fists firmly placed on my hips, I said defiantly:
“That isn't an answer!”
A low rumbling sound akin to laughing came from that being, sending chills down my spine.
“What makes you think that any of this is done for your benefit? The time for your intervention has passed and now you are existing solely for my purposes.”
Unconsciously, I look back at the flames behind me as if they are beckoning me. I shut my eyes tightly, trying not to be hypnotized by the pyre and turn to the being who claims to hold my fate.
“I am am a good person and I keep my head down. Why is my life so important that it would come to this?!” I ask pointedly, while indicating with my right hand towards the scene behind me.
“I pose those same questions to you and ask what in your short blink of an existence in this realm deems you to continue living? What have you done to be worthy of your life because there are many in line waiting to fill your shoes?”
I was offended by his words and ready to state my case but as I look back at my life, I can't say anything stood out. I've not led an extravagant life. In fact, far from it but it was still my own. I was not a bad person to be sentenced like that. My life was humble, quiet, and safe. I should not be standing here right now discussing my life, but rather living it!
“You should ask yourself if you are really living?”
“What kind of question is that?” I shout back in an outrage.
Of course I have been living! I couldn't help but feel appalled by that statement but it also got me thinking about my choices. Of course, it was quiet but only because I consciously made that choice. Throughout my life, I would have been the one that everyone forgot exists because I never do anything to call attention to myself. Yes, my life was humble; Only because I didn't strive for more than what was needed in life, like an education and...
There was no 'and'.
My life was the safest there was, no one could argue with that. I had what I needed, so why would I need to venture beyond that. I was content and happy. I didn't like the prospect of taking chances because there was a 50/50 or more percentile that I would fail. Like I said, I was content with my seclusion, my knowledge, and security.
Why, it was only this morning I was cozy in my office with my familiars, my books. One particular book was feeling the ravages of time and it was my job to tend to it. Water damage as well as brittle pages were showing signs of its age but I was my duty to give it a sort of face lift and preserve the precious lives within it. I treasured these books now more than I did people around me and lived the lives of its protagonist vicariously. In a sense they were my babies.
As of late, I looked forward to times when no one was in the library and I could slip into one of the various worlds they offer within their pages and would just lose myself. I could forget about my sorrow and the state of my life for a few moments in the day and I was content with just that!
I see nothing wrong with my current state of life so I cross my arms resolutely announce, “I'm perfectly happy with the way my life is!”
“A gilded beast born in captivity will not regret something it never experienced, but will it not yearn to feel the grass within sight and beyond its confines? You on the other hand, could and have had the choice to go beyond that which is comfortable, yet you continually choose to stay within your own confines by erecting your prison walls high above yourself. Comfortable living or rather fearfully hiding from the rest of the world is as much a cage of your own construct.”
I clench my fist - probably creating half moons on my palms - to keep from verbally lashing out at this spirit's harsh words, but why are these words riling me and offending me so? I am happy with the way my life has panned out yet the verbal barbs gouge severely to my core and its poison penetrating deep within me.
What have I done with my life? Yes, I'm content, but am I happy? I convinced myself into thinking that the outside world is of no interest to me. I feel the pull to go out and do something outside of my normal routine but when I poke my head out from beyond the books and my comfort level, my neck could only stretch so far. Fear seizes me and I instantly run to my refuge, always telling myself I'll try that again next time over and over again...but I never do.
It's too late for that.
I reevaluate once again the paths that I chose and find that all of my choices did have alternatives to where I am now. I used to chide myself into thinking that college is where my life would pick up and whisk me off to uncharted lands, yet I chose the safest route: two years in community college for my gen eds; a B.A. in English instead of linguistics as I had originally planned, and then a two year Master's of Library Science. My parents are librarians, as were my grandparents, my great-grandparent, and my great-great-grandparents before them.
So much for a life change.
I intended to finish my undergraduate degree and let the world snatch me in its clutches after that, but after graduation, I had a choice: I could go get a vocational job - any job that would accept someone straight out of college - or I could go back to school where I'm familiar with the terrain and end up working in the library - very familiar.
Needless to say, I chose the later because it was safe, telling myself, 'my parents are getting along in age and they'll need help.' When they both died a couple of years ago, I felt like it was my responsibility as a dutiful daughter to continue what three generations before me had started. I didn't even consider other possibilities besides being a librarian. The choice that I had lined up as a way out, a way to start afresh wasn't even placed on the back burner after their deaths but sealed away from the light of day and eventually forgotten.
What have I done with my life? I really am a coward but is this all that there is of me and the ending to my life's story? Has my fear already predetermined my failure all along?
I didn't normally like to drive because my parents died in a car crash and my phobia of a my fate has kept me from driving. I had stopped driving all together after the news of their death until this particular day, the biggest storm our little town has seen in decades. I normally walked to the library because it was the only form of exercise I would get in the day. While walking, I didn't dwell on memories that would come up as they normally did if I were behind the wheel. I'm usually preoccupied with not getting run over, however this day was different. No matter how I tried to rationalize that I could walk in the rain, something pulled me to my vehicle and I chose to drive despite all my trepidation. When I got to the library, the rain cleared up and actually turned into a beautiful day, so my hopes and anxieties were quelled for the time being.
Closing time had also brought about the formation of the grey cumulus clouds that all but occupy the space that the once clear, blue sky resided in. In came the wind and the hail and my poor windshield wipers could not keep up. I would slow down to 20 mph as visibility was practically nonexistent and though everything from the clouds to a nagging conscience screamed, “Do NOT drive!”, I was compelled to go against my better judgment. My own cowardice failed me when I needed it most!
I closed in on a secluded intersection, a pot hole the size of a sinkhole threw my car off balance and I hydroplaned and crossed over to the on-coming traffic lane. Though no one was coming towards me, I hit the curb and felt the car slowly tilt sideways while it continued to propel forward until it was too unbalanced and finally flipped over. Everything started to move in slow motion as I suddenly felt my body inverted, an odd thing happened. I felt as though I was being lifted out of my seat, like a huge drop in a roller coaster and that feeling when your stomach is left behind, only this time I felt I was leaving my body behind.
A bright light encapsulated my body and I suddenly found myself face down in the middle of the intersection. I had no idea how I got there except that I blacked out for a second, and suddenly, here I am. I needed to get help! Then, a bright light flashed as I saw a car in the far distance slowly moving down the road through the hail and heavy rain. With all the inclement weather around me, I noticed I was dry as can be. Just a few feet beyond me, the sleet came down furiously, yet the ground I stood on and a small radius around me was a dry as can be. I looked up and saw a bubble-like arc had surrounded me while droplets and hail bounced off its surface.
I was transfixed by the sight of this phenomenon however the two bright lights down the road caught my attention instantly. As the vehicle neared, I began to recognize the make and model until it dawned on me.
That's my car!
The vehicle crossed the two white lines of the intersection and drove down towards pothole from hell. It seemed to appear out of nowhere! I jumped in front of it, waved my arms frantically and tried to get the driver's attention. I sprung off the balls of my feet and hollered for the car to stop or turn around, hoping the driver actually saw me and would swerve to avoid the crazy person in the middle of the road.
Shit, the car was not slowing down! It's barreling straight for me!
I crouched and shielded my neck and head with my arms, shut my eyes and waited for the impact. As the headlights closed in on me, I felt as though a great gust of wind whirred past me and knocked me off balance. I looked at myself and found that everything was intact but I didn't have much time to celebrate. As my little car hit that dreaded pothole once again, I watched as an outsider while it skidded off the curb and flip with a loud crunch and metallic squeal.
I jumped to my feet and ran after the inverted car to try and be of some assistance yet as soon as I crossed the pedestrian line, I collided with an invisible barrier. It would not let me into the intersection! I pounded and kicked up and down the the invisible wall but only got as far as the two parallel corners of the intersection. I tried to walk back the way I came but I couldn't get past the first white line I had crossed earlier.
Fear flooded my senses and I questioned whether I should assess the damage. I know what I would see in the next few moments but I was also afraid for the person that was stuck inside the car. Here I stood and looked on with the knowledge of what was going to happen - something I pride myself in having - yet I couldn't do a damn thing about it because of this forsaken rectangular barrier around me.
There was some movement in the car after a few moments and hope welled up in me. The “me” inside the car had a chance to get out, but the topple over the curb dented the doors and probably the mechanisms that controlled the lock. She rattled the door a bit and shook the car enough for it to shift when I noticed that there was a noticeable puddle pooling around the vehicle. She must have noticed as well because her struggles were more frantic. I beat and slammed against the clear barrier but got no closer to the car. She scrambled to the back windshield after she trying the back doors but the gasoline caught a spark from all the agitation against the asphalt and it quickly engulfed the car. I watch helplessly as she tried to kick the windshield a few times and she watched the ring of fire ignited around the side and the front of the windshield. She pounded on the glass and cried as the flames created a fiery barrier and my vision was obscured by flame and tears.
I watched in horror as the fire rose higher and I could hardly see the prisoner within her metal confines. I briefly caught a glimpse of that girl, trapped in a situation that was beyond her control with no options laid out for her benefit to escape. In the last second, it seems as though she finally saw me, both of us struggling in our prisons, and she mouthed something to me as the first wave of explosions ignites from the engine and devoured her in billows of smoke and flames. Her last scream, my last scream, before death came swooping down, echoed in my ears. One last attempt to be heard, one last struggle to live, summed up all in a high pitch outcry to anyone that listened. Then there was silence.
The memory of my futile attempts to save my other self is still raw and as I look back at the inverted ghost car, the flames have died down.
“You didn't have a choice in the matter.” The low voice made its presence known once again and snapped me back to the present.
“You were the one compelling me to drive! My gut was telling me to walk and avoid getting behind the wheel but against my better judgment, I still drove!”
“Whether you die here or getting run over in the street trying to avoid the inevitable, you were still going to end up with me.”
I pursed my lips tightly trying to digest all that this spirit was telling me but I cannot just accept my fate as is. I mulled over all the possibilities of escape in all the situations he mentioned and couldn't just give into fate snipping my lifeline prematurely.
“...I don't understand, how can I-?”
“I know what you've said but what is the reason behind me being here now?! I need to know why I am here beyond the fact that I've lived an unfulfilled life. There are plenty of other people out there in my shoes or worse. What was so special about me that you had to kill me and plan various means for my end? There has to be a reason!"
“You have a destiny to fulfill. The choices that you made suited the purpose of your destiny as well as my use for you after this life. With all the unfulfilled potential you left in your wake, it was only a matter of time before I would interject and put an end to your wasted life. This is only the first phase of your rebirth but now, I will make sure your existence will not be a total waste.”
Suddenly, I feel the urge to break from the string of tasks that the spirit allude are predestined for me. I'll fight for what little choices I could have. It's the least I can do after not making an effort this far.
“What do you mean, 'no'.”
“Exactly that. No!”
“Hahaha, you do no have a say in this matter. Like I said, you gave up that privilege as soon as you chose not to care about your life and now you're in my realm. You always wanted to be a part of something bigger and I'm presenting you that opportunity now.”
“No! I want make these choices myself, now and not have you make them for me! There is a prodigious difference between the two.”
“Silly mortal. You never knew what to do with the opportunities you were presented with. Something as minute as choosing to branch out beyond your comfortably was a trial in your life, which you failed. Now that same choice is the crux of your existence but only because it is taken away do you now care about the blunder that was your life.”
“We are not just mortal but we are human as well. To err is the basis of humanity, but you wouldn't know that, would you? I've made mistakes but don't we learn from them?”
"Not you. You never ventured to do anything besides what is necessary and never made a mistake therefore, you can never learn from them."
"I can change!"
That disturbing rumble of a laugh erupted from the being once again but I refused to be intimidated.
“All right. If you think that you can do better with what is left of your meager existence, by all means, prove me wrong. I'll give you one more chance to return to the realm of the living but once you slip up again and do something that would deem my intervention, you will be fulfilling the rest of your fate in this realm.
Immediately after the nameless spirit made his decree in a booming voice that echoes all around me. Everything went black and I wake up to find myself on the cold, damp asphalt beside the crash scene. There were no flames, no puddles of gasoline presenting any danger and my lifeless body lay prone outside the driver's seat. I walk up to my body expecting it to move but nothing happens. Crouching by my own body now and I reach out and move the hair covering my face. That single touch sends an intense shock throughout my being and I cannot move. Suddenly, a strong pull almost like a vortex I feel myself being sucked in downwards, my world flash white and spreads over all the surfaces.
I open my eyes, my body sore all over, and I slowly rise off my stomach, twisting to a sitting position. I instantly realize that I was back in my own body once again and actually had to do an visual inspection for any injuries or burns. Curiously enough, I had none. In fact, I came out with only a few scrapes and bruises but that was about it. It was miraculous, indeed, but the flashes of the explosion is still ingrained in my head.
Was that whole scene a dream from when I crashed or did it really happen? It was tangible to the point where I could feel the heat and smell the fumes but dreams were always realistic. I look at the mangled car and cannot help but think that it's a miracle I can walk out of this so unscathed but here I am and whole. That's all that matters. I have a few things I need to take care of, house keeping, if you will but first, I need to take care of myself.
I suddenly have a feeling like I am not alone and look down the road where that hellish pothole had been. Oddly enough, it's not there anymore, but standing in its place was a dark figure, watching silently as I acknowledge its presence. It seems to nod and drift off in the opposite direction, slowly fading into the scenery.
I stood up sluggishly and watch the spirit go with a sigh of relief. My side aches and I'll probably be in pain for days but I'm alive. That's all that matters. I'll remember my end of the bargain as along as it remembers theirs.